Hobbes was sitting in the van, trying to ignore the time and the police chatter that, so far, had not interested him. He yawned and considered running out to find some coffee when the traffic on the scanner caught his attention. "...units to 14356 Oakdale. Break-in reported by security."
Hobbes groaned. He knew that location, big office building just outside the main downtown area. Starting the van, he headed for the location. It was good bet this 'break-in' had something to do with his wayward partners.
Pulling up just down the street, he watched the police going about their jobs. A few other gawkers had shown up and, wanting to get closer, he got out and joined the crowd. The bar down the street had let out and there was a good-sized collection of less-than-sober people gathered outside, obviously having nothing better to do now that the bar itself was closed.
He could just hear a couple of the cops standing lazily by their cruiser, talking with each other. He sidled a bit closer, not sure what he was going to do if this disturbance actually turned out to be caused by one or both of his friends.
Then the guilty party was lead out in handcuffs, and it took less than a second for Bobby to recognize the perp. That red hair was unmistakable. He ground his teeth as he listened to the cops joking that the 'Robin Hood' the papers had been praising had turned out to be 'Maid Marian.'
*Bobby, don't do anything,* she suddenly said into his mind. He twitched, but did not react otherwise. She didn't even glance over at him. *Call the Attorney General's Office and ask to speak to James Ferndale. Tell him to check his e-mail.*
*Kid...* Bobby couldn't help but let the anger he felt creep into his mind voice.
*Trust me Bobby.* Alyx was shoved uncomfortably into the back of the cruiser.
He did nothing. In fact, he waited until the car had driven off before moving back to the van. He sat there for nearly thirty minutes before he picked up his cell phone and did exactly as she had asked. He wasn't sure what the hell was going on, suspected that Fawkes was involved in some way, but after her phone call saving their asses the other night he couldn't just ignore what she had requested.
The answering service had been reluctant when he insisted that his call be put through and no, he didn't give a damn what time it was. When he mentioned that he was indeed a federal agent, however, things got moving a bit faster.
Ferndale had not been thrilled to be awakened, and even less thrilled to have orders tossed at him by some Fed he didn't know. His mood changed though when he actually opened his e-mail, and he began to question Hobbes quite enthusiastically. Ferndale was disappointed to find out Hobbes was just passing on a message and just got the basic information he needed to contact him, if needed, before hanging up.
Hobbes stared at his phone for long moments, wondering exactly what the hell had just happened.
When Darien got back to the car, he had to force himself to simply start the engine and leave. He felt like he was abandoning her, even though she had insisted that he go. Following the original plan, he drove back to the rental place to return the car and pick up hers. Everything had already been paid for, so there was nothing he else needed to do.
He'd taken both her bag and his when he left. All she'd had was her headset and wireless, less stuff for her to get into trouble with. Driving back to his place -- he'd swap cars in the morning -- he tried not to worry about her. She would have either gotten out or been arrested. If arrested, and if she kept her mouth shut, she would probably end up in juvenile detention considering how young she looked. Not the greatest place on earth, but nowhere near as bad as the city jail. Though if she got shoved into a holding cell with a bunch of female gang-bangers, she could be in trouble.
This had not been part of his plan, and he felt damn guilty about it.
Once inside his place, he shoved the bags under his bed and stripped out of his clothes, tossing them into his laundry basket. Stepping into the shower, he turned it on and shivered at the cold water that ran over his body. He had planned to drag her back here and spend a couple of hours celebrating their success. Instead he was standing alone, in a cold shower, berating himself for leaving her behind, for not dragging her along with him, hell, for getting her involved in the first place. Hobbes was right, she did not need this shit in her life.
Maybe she didn't need him in her life if he was going to do stuff this stupid.
The water had finally begun to warm, but he still just stood there, his forehead pressed against the tile of the wall, as the water pounded down on his back. Once again he found himself playing the blame game that he had become so very good at over the many long months he had spent at the Agency. Only this time, instead of trying to place blame as to why he got stuck with the gland in his head, it was about what else he could have done instead of getting back into his past career. It didn't matter that it had begun as harmless fun, a way of easing some of the boredom and giving him something to do instead of relying on Alyx or Bobby to keep him amused when there was nothing going on. Hell, he'd be the first to admit he missed it, but he'd been hoping that by keeping what he did light, making the challenge to just get in and out instead of stealing something and getting away clean, that it would be enough to keep him amused.
It hadn't worked, obviously.
Granted, even nights he'd gone out for some of his 'fun,' he'd usually ended up back at her place afterwards. The thrill of a successful job was always better when he could then celebrate with some... some... ah, hell, some damned fantastic sex. Might as well admit it. The adrenaline rush doing a job was only surpassed by the chance to burn off all that extra energy with her. Not once had she complained about being woken up. In fact, several times she'd already been awake, like she'd been waiting for him.
He shook the water out of his eyes, noticing that it was quickly growing cold again, and hurriedly washed and rinsed.
Getting out, he stared at himself in the half-fogged mirror, mentally berating himself. Yeah, she might have accepted him as he was, but that didn't give him the right to use that to get her to do something. Too bad he hadn't thought of that before beginning this fiasco of a job.
Drying and getting dressed, he crawled into his emptier than usual bed and tried to sleep.
Alyx had not said a word during the entire drive to the station. Now she was sitting in the small room, her hands still handcuffed behind her, waiting for them to decide what they were going to do with her. She'd had the joy of having her prints taken, though they had yet to take her picture for a mug shot. Hard to do that when she had yet to give them a name. Two different detectives had been in so far, and both had given up after short time when she had done nothing more than stare at them.
She was behaving herself. She hadn't undone the cuffs, hadn't screamed for a lawyer, hadn't asked to call her parents -- one of the things they kept suggesting -- hadn't done anything but sit here, bored out of her mind, for the last hour.
The door opened again and two detectives, one a woman, walked in. It was obvious they were going to tag-team her. "Well, Miss..." The woman let it hang, hoping Alyx would fill in the name for her. When it became obvious she would not, the cop continued. "We ran your prints and came back with a big blank. So either you've been real good and haven't gotten caught before..."
"Or this is your first job, and either you screwed up or your partner bailed. Leaving you to take the fall." The male detective finished.
Alyx shifted back to get a bit more comfortable and yawned.
"Kid, do you have any idea how much trouble you are in?" He had leaned forward on the table to yell this at her.
Alyx just smiled. He suddenly reminded her so much of Bobby that she found it difficult to keep from laughing.
The woman took over then, sitting on the edge of the table and doing the concerned adult routine. "Isn't there anyone we can contact for you? Someone must be worried about you."
Alyx didn't react. Yeah, there would be at least two people worried about her, one of them feeling guilty as hell about leaving her behind. The other probably equal parts angry and confused. They'd be just fine, and by morning most of this should be over with, provided Hobbes had done as she had asked. Otherwise, tomorrow was going to be a long day.
"How stupid are you?" the guy snarled in exasperation. "You have no ID, no record we could find, you're probably a runaway, and you were caught breaking into the offices of one of the richest men in town. Do you really think you are just going to walk away from this?"
Alyx could tell he was getting really irritated at her lack of response. Apparently he was usually pretty good with kids in her situation. Too bad for him she wasn't a kid.
A new voice broke in from the other side of the two-way mirror. "Who did you send the e-mail to?"
Alyx sat up straighter and probed gently on the far side of the glass. She was pleased by who she found. "James Ferndale at the Attorney General's office. Carlton Harding of the FBI. Layton Kirkpatrick of the FCC. Charlie Borden of the Department of Fish and Game." She knew the last would confuse him, but she had her reasons for doing so.
The door opened and the aforementioned James Ferndale stepped into the room. "Release her."
"We can't do that," the male detective said, recognizing the man.
"God damn it, I'm her lawyer. Take off the cuffs, now!" he shouted at the two cops.
When the female detective stepped over, Alyx moved her hands from behind her back and handed the unlocked cuffs to her. The woman didn't even bother to comment. If a bigwig from the Attorney General's Office was coming in to play lawyer for some unknown kid, then something major was going down and she wasn't sure she wanted to know about it.
"Clear out," Ferndale said to both of them, but it took an order from their boss on the far side of the glass to get them to move.
As soon as the door had shut, Ferndale pulled a chair over and sat next to her. "Well, should I assume you are the infamous 'Robin Hood' everyone in town has been cheering about?"
"I can neither confirm nor deny that," she responded with a wry grin. "Can the information do you any good?"
Ferndale nodded. "We need to legitimize it, though. My people are working on the problem as we speak."
Ferndale continued. "By dawn things should be settled enough to get you out of here. Think you can handle that?"
"Get them to let me use the ladies room and give me a place to lie down and I'll be just fine," Alyx said truthfully. She really wanted no part of spending the next few hours sitting in this very uncomfortable chair.
"Ladies... Damn, they still pull that stunt, do they?" He patted her on the shoulder. "It will be done, I promise."
She believed him.
Less than twenty minutes later, after having dealt with her immediate needs, she found herself ensconced in, not a jail cell, but a cot in the crib of the station. Granted, there was a plainclothes police officer standing outside the door, but she didn't care. She curled up and fell asleep within minutes.
Hobbes burst into Darien's apartment just before 7:00 AM, intending to catch him out. Instead he found no one, much to his surprise. Then a disembodied voice spoke from the far side of the room.
"God damn it, Hobbes. What the hell is your problem?" Darien shouted as the quicksilver that had involuntarily flowed across his body when Hobbes had burst in flaked off.
"My problem? What did you get the kid mixed up in?" Hobbes shouted right back at his partner.
"Mixed up in? What...?" Darien moved across the room to glare down at the shorter man. "I dropped her off last night and came back here. I'm supposed to pick her up in an hour." He wasn't quite sure where that had come from, but it was as good a cover story as any.
"Dropped her off, ri-ight. And I'm supposed to believe this, why?" Hobbes had stopped shouting but the anger was still there.
"Yes, Hobbes. I don't presume to keep track of her every move. I'm not the one with the paranoia." That was an unfair shot, but it was worth it to see his reaction.
Hobbes backed off a step, nodding. Maybe the kid had done it on her own. "Well then, you'll be pleased to know she got herself arrested last night breaking into the offices of high roller Nate Richards."
Darien didn't have to fake his dismay at Hobbes' words. He had really hoped she'd gotten away. "Aw, crap."
"You said it, my friend. Apparently this isn't the first stunt she's pulled." Hobbes tipped his head a bit, waiting to see Darien's reaction. "According to the papers, she's 'Robin Hood.'"
Darien shook his head. "Can't be. Not Alyx."
"Just telling you what the papers said. No names or pics, just that 'he' is a 'she,' and where she was caught last night." Hobbes was starting to believe that maybe, just maybe, Fawkes had nothing to do with last night or any of it.
Darien moved to his bureau and began to pull out clothes to wear. "We gotta get her out."
"No can do. Not unless she calls one of us." He realized Fawkes truly was upset about this. "We don't know she was arrested, remember?"
"Damn it, Bobby. We have to do something," Darien snapped at him.
"We are. We're going to tell the chief what we, or rather I, know. He'll handle it from there," Hobbes explained, keeping his tone calm. He wasn't sure how far along Fawkes was with the quicksilver; yesterday he'd been half full, but there was always a chance that Hobbes' surprise entrance had pushed him a bit too far. "You okay?"
Darien glanced at his wrist. He still had four left, so was still good for a couple of days. "Fine. I'll be ready in twenty minutes."
"Sure, Fawkes. I'll make some coffee." Hobbes moved off to the kitchen while Darien headed into his bathroom to get ready.
Hobbes shook his head, no longer quite sure what had been going on the past few weeks. He still had trouble believing the kid could have done this on her own. He wasn't sure even Fawkes was capable of these 'Robin Hood' stunts. Deciding to start stealing again? Yeah, that he could see. But catching bad guys? On his own time? That he just couldn't believe. Far easier to believe in the Easter Bunny.
When they walked into the Official's office some forty-five minutes later, they still hadn't come up with an easy way to explain why Alyx was in jail or how Hobbes had come to have such information. Darien certainly had no intention of telling the truth. He preferred to avoid spending time in the padded room while ensconced in a less-than-comfortable straightjacket. Bobby, on the other hand, was not sure he wanted to tell the boss that he'd started suspecting that Fawkes and maybe the kid had been up to something for several weeks now, but that he had failed to catch them at it in time to prevent the police from getting involved.
Their concerns went right out the window, for when they opened the door to the office they found Alyx sitting calmly on the conference table talking with the Official and several men neither Hobbes or Darien recognized. She was still wearing the all-black outfit she had been arrested in last night, and surprisingly the Official didn't look the least bit angry. In fact, he looked rather smug and satisfied.
"Good morning, boys," he began, gesturing for them to sit. "James Ferndale, meet Agents Fawkes and Hobbes."
They nodded, but neither of them was able to find their voice. Darien just looked rather stunned at seeing Alyx, when he'd fully expected to have to go bail her out after explaining to the Official that she was in jail. Bobby was, somehow, not surprised that she had gotten herself out of it. Considering who she'd had him call, he had suspected, in some small corner of his mind, that maybe this had been an Agency assignment for Alyx, one that he had known nothing about. It wouldn't be the first time, after all.
"Agent Hobbes, how did you know to call me?" Ferndale asked in curiosity.
"I left him a delayed voice mail," Alyx answered, saving Bobby the effort of having to make up his own story. "Morning, guys." She gave both men a smile and gently touched Darien's mind to assure him she was all right.
"Fawkes, Hobbes, hit the road. I still need you to track down the source of those Blackhawks." It was obvious the Official still had more to discuss with Alyx and the three men, and it was equally obvious that they were going to be left out of the need-to-know loop yet again.
Eberts walked over to them holding a slim file. "These are the results of the tests done on the trucks. It should give you a place to start."
Bobby looked over the report inside and smiled. Oh yeah, it would give them a place to start, and they might even finish this today if they had a little luck. He glanced over at Alyx. At a guess, luck was something they had in ready supply today. "No prob, chief."
"I want some sort of results by this afternoon, understand me?" The Official tried to sound gruff, but it was a little forced at the moment.
"Yeah, we understand," Darien commented, a bit distracted. "Alyx?"
"I'll give you a call later," she told him, hoping he'd be a little patient, and a lot understanding.
He nodded to her. "Come on, Hobbes. I should see the Keep first just in case." He gave Bobby a shove to get him moving.
"Hmmm? Oh, right." He followed Darien out of the room, shutting the door behind them.
Alyx turned back to the Official. They were waiting for a few others to show and then they had a lot of work to do in order to guarantee success in taking down Mr. Nate Richards once and for all.
It was late afternoon before the others finally left and Alyx could speak to the Official alone. "So boss, when did you know something was up?"
He chuckled. Oh yeah, even for all the difficulties with her, she was damn good. "Eberts."
"Sir." He moved over to the boxes of files and, after a moment of searching, pulled out one and handed it to Alyx.
Inside was a grainy photo taken from a very cheap video surveillance camera. She looked at the date and the location on the typed report also in the file. It was not a face shot, but she knew who it was. That long, lean body encased in close-fitting black. Hell, that hair. "Since the beginning, huh?" She closed the file and handed it back. "No wonder work has been so slow. You made sure it was, so that when the time came, you could try and grab credit for the Agency. Behind closed doors, at least."
The Official didn't answer her directly. "How long have you known?"
Alyx shook her head. "Known? Wrong question. You know I don't intentionally read him." She slid off the table and stretched. It had been a rather long 24 hours at this point. "It was harmless, anyway. I didn't see you rushing off to stop him."
"Of course not. He works better when he's not brooding. If a little harmless after-hours activity helps to keep him happy, I'm willing to look the other way." The Official raised one finger to wave at her. "See to it he keeps it harmless and doesn't abuse the quicksilver. The counteragent is still expensive."
Alyx shook her head laughing lightly. "Always the practical one, aren't you Charlie?" She walked over to the door. "I'm heading home." She paused with the door open. "Oh, what about that loan job? Health and Human Services, wasn't it?"
"This takes precedence. Agent Monroe will just have to wait. Go home. Be on time for the meeting tomorrow," the Official ordered, turning back to his work.
"Yes, boss," Alyx replied, leaving the room to head for home.
Alyx was standing at the foot of her bed, holding a couple of glasses of wine and looking at Darien, who was lying there watching her. When he opened his mouth to say something, she overrode him. "If you say you're bored, I'm going to hurt you." She moved over to him and handed him one of the glasses.
Taking it from her, he chuckled. "No." He waited until she had made herself comfortable before continuing. "I...I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked you to get involved with my...my life."
"Too late, bub. Everything turned out just fine, and I can honestly say it was fun. In a kinda weird way, but fun." She could tell he either didn't want to believe her or was simply outright refusing to. "You're not upset about my usurping your credit, are you 'Robin'?"
He shook his head and set the glass aside. "Not really. I know it was me, and you know. That's more than enough. I just...you shouldn't be taking the blame for it."
"Blame? The 'Fish is crowing with delight. Since I did all this work, work the agencies involved couldn't seem to do, our Agency is getting at least partial credit. He's in budget-boost heaven." Alyx could tell Darien was truly upset about her involvement and the way it had ended. She had explained that she'd done some extra research and had prepared for the contingency of them being caught. She hadn't told him simply because she didn't want to ruin his fun. If he suddenly thought it was nothing more than another government job then the entire point of doing it, for him anyway, would be gone. Maybe it had been a little unfair of her, but considering how things turned out she felt more than justified.
For all that he was sprawled on her bed, he'd done no more than kick off his shoes. He hadn't even managed to really relax, and it bothered her. She wasn't sure if he was angry with her for going behind his back with her arrangements or because they'd screwed up and gotten caught. Or maybe he really was upset that she had stolen his glory. She'd made the headlines for the evening papers, though her name and picture were strangely absent. "Talk to me, Dare."
He closed his eyes for a long moment. He'd done a lot of thinking about everything that had happened in the last week, and he still hadn't come up with a solution. There was something he'd been considering for a couple months, but now...now he was beginning to think it was an option he should bury in the farthest reaches of his mind and forget. He opened his eyes to find her still sitting in the same position, waiting patiently for him to figure out what he wanted to say.
"I've been a thief most of my life," he began, finding this very familiar. "And that's not likely to change, even with both Bobby and the Fat Man breathing down my neck." He reached out and picked up one of her hands. "I don't want you to end up hurt because of it."
Alyx could feel his discomfort, his guilt for what he thought he'd put her through, his honesty about not changing. She realized he was going to get all stupidly noble and do something that he thought would protect her. "Fool. I'd be more likely to get hurt if you stopped being who you were because of what someone else said."
He blinked at her, not quite sure he understood.
"Don't change who you are for anyone else including me. Look, I do not claim to own any part of your life. Whatever you're willing to give me, I'll take, gladly. Partner, friend, lover, any or all, but if you truly want to walk out that door and not come back I will not stop you." She waved her hand in the direction of the door and watched the different emotions race across his features.
"You'd let me go? Just like that?" He was wavering between anger and sadness.
"If that was what you really wanted, what would make you happy, then yes, I would," Alyx answered honestly. It might not have been what he wanted to hear, but it was the truth. She moved then bringing herself to within inches of him. "Personally, I like you here."
His free hand came up to caress her face. "Damn it. This is wrong, but leaving is not what I want."
She closed her eyes, enjoying his touch. "What is it you do want?"
He leaned in to kiss her, lightly, teasingly. Making her respond in that most wonderful of ways that he would truly hate to lose. "Marry me," he whispered into her ear.
She froze, and he immediately knew that he had made a huge mistake. He watched as she backed away from him to sit just out of his reach. She closed her eyes and swallowed around the huge lump that had suddenly found its way into her throat.
"Alyx?" He sounded concerned. After what they had just been discussing, for him to take what must have been a major left turn must have thrown her.
It took her another minute to organize herself before she could open her eyes and look at him. "Thank you for asking. It means a lot, but I can't...I won't marry you."
"I don't understand. You talked me out of leaving." He moved then, wanting, needing to be near her. "But you don't want anything more?"
"What more could I need? You're here. I'm here. I told you when we were at Piotr's wedding that I didn't need any more than that. I still don't." She reached up to run her fingers along his cheek. "Does this have to become an issue between us?"
"Damn it, Alyx. Maybe I don't want you get away from me." He was unable to keep the frustration and confusion he felt out of his voice. He'd never really considered himself the type to get married, until recently. Now, yeah, he wanted to marry her. Wanted some assurance that she would be there when he woke up in the morning, that when he came home at night she would be there. That he truly did hold a place in her heart like she claimed.
"I'm here for as long as you want me. I have no need of a ring or piece of paper for that." she answered in a soft voice.
"Maybe I do," he responded. Backing away from her, he reached for his glass of wine and drank it down quickly. Before he made a possibly foolish and irrevocable decision, he asked, "Why?"
She shook her head, finding herself unable to answer him.
"I better go, then." He got to his feet and walked away from the bed, leaving her sitting there unmoving.
When her front door opened and shut just minutes later, she still hadn't moved. She'd meant what she'd said.
"It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not."
I was...am a thief. I had been forced into a job that, most days, didn't fit. I'd made friends that did their best to understand, to accept me for who and what I was. But some days, it still wasn't enough.
I may have changed, but not that much.